Artillery Row

Trans lobby capture Childline

James Esses’s career was ruined when he spoke out about gender ideology

Remember the fall of Kids’ Company? The charity led into obscurity by a well-meaning figure with bizarre beliefs which were later denounced as “pseudoscientific”. It would be comforting to imagine that organisations supporting children might have observed and become a little more circumspect about faddy ideas; sadly it seems they have learned nothing.

James Esses, a 29-year-old trainee psychotherapist, has seen his dreams quashed after speaking out about the influence of transgender lobby groups on institutions. It was in 2015 when he took the first step away from his former career as a barrister and toward a vocation to become a therapist working with children. But just a few months ago Esses found himself not only booted from his Masters course at Metanoia Institute but also unwelcome at NSPCC-run Childline where he had volunteered as counsellor for six years. 

Following two complaints about “gender critical” tweets, Esses was summoned to meet with head of Childline

He believes the prevailing approach, whereby patients are affirmed in their cross-sex identities, is leading to children being put on a medical pathway for what is a mental health issue.

Rates of referral to gender identity services (GIDS), have soared over the past decade; from 138 in 2010/11 to 2,383 from 2020/2021. The leading gender identity service in the UK is currently the subject of an independent review; this follows the resignation of 35 staff members over a three-year period, an “inadequate” rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and multiple employees blowing the whistle on poor practice.

In December last year the High Court found that children could not give consent to take drugs that halt puberty. In a startling move, in October before the ruling the NSPCC lent its name to an open letter which claimed preventing children from accessing puberty blocking treatments undermined their “agency” putting them “at high risk of mental illness and emotional distress, potentially affecting their long-term future.” By pre-empting the decision of the High Court, leading children’s charities picked a side in an ideologically charged debate.

Earlier this year, Esses was alarmed to discover that gender identity was to be included in the proposed ban on conversion therapy. He feared that this might prevent therapists like him from being able to explore children’s feelings of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the condition whereby some people feel extreme discomfort in their bodies. Suffering from gender dysphoria does not make a person “transgender”, it is a psychological condition known to be linked to autism, nascent same-sex attraction and trauma following abuse. 

Esses met with other concerned clinicians and formed a group called Thoughtful Therapists. The aim of the group is to ensure therapeutic interventions remain open to support those struggling with their gender. Thoughtful Therapists launched a petition titled “Safeguard evidence-based therapy for children struggling with gender dysphoria” which received over 10,000 signatures and a response from the government. The petition caused a social media backlash against Esses, which he says led to his expulsion from the Masters course at the Metanoia Institute. He was contacted by Childline a few weeks later.

On the Childline website contested ideological viewpoints are presented as fact

The NSPCC, who run the Childline service, claim that they offer non-directive counselling for gender identity issues. Following two complaints about “gender critical” tweets, Esses was summoned to meet with head of Childline, Shaun Friel, to discuss his views. The trainee therapist complained that the advice offered on gender identity was skewed toward affirming children’s trans identities. But Childline refute these accusations, claiming to have “investigated fully” and “found no issues.”

Information on the Childline website does seem one-sided; contested ideological viewpoints are presented as fact. Children are advised “lots of things make up your gender” and that this is not just “male or female sex organs” but that it might also be “gender expression, how you show your gender, like how you dress, walk or act.”

The charity’s YouTube channel has multiple interviews with transgender activists and lists films aimed at youngsters with titles including “What Is Heteronormativity?”, “Pansexuality” and “Trans 101.” 

Esses tells me he is heartbroken:

I had given 5 years and over 1,000 hours of my life to Childline and had hoped to continue helping children there for the rest of my life.

There is no doubt in my mind that many organisations who engage with children have been significantly influenced by partisan, activist organisations. I still remember seeing a Stonewall poster plastered all over the Childline counselling room; shutting down any chance of open, honest dialogue between counsellors as to best practise.

The NSPCC strongly refute Esses’ claims that he was effectively pushed for speaking out against Childline’s approach to gender identity, instead stating that the organisation had concerns about being viewed as affiliated to Esses’ campaigning activities. A spokesperson said: 

We respect people’s rights to hold different views, but volunteers can’t give the impression Childline endorses their personal campaigns. It’s vital that children know that Childline is a welcoming place for all young people.

We believe this is a reasonable expectation. We have discussed the situation at length with the volunteer and have told him the door is open for him to return to volunteering if we can get assurances. We took the concerns he raised seriously, fully investigated them and this had nothing to do with the discussions about volunteering.

Esses has no plans to challenge Childline’s stance, but he is planning to take the Metonia Institution to court and has started fundraising for legal fees. He has concerns not just for himself but for others:

I know for a fact there are many others in my situation, especially trainee and practising therapists. However, most are unfortunately too scared to raise their concerns for fear that what has happened to me will happen to them.

Given the fact that medication and surgery can cause irreversible changes, we must be particularly cautious of encouraging children down such a path, especially when the research shows that most children with gender dysphoria will settle into their biological sex.

Esses has shown great bravery and integrity by taking on the institutions in whose hands his career rested. That he was forced by his own moral standards to do so is less a reflection on him, and more on the capture of children’s services by transgender ideology. Childline and the Metonia Institution would do well to remember their first duty is not to an online mob who are offended by biological reality, but rather to vulnerable children in need of protection.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover